High-Speed Rail Advocate – February 2011 Issue

 
Message from CA4HSR’S New Executive Director

Momentum continues to build for high-speed rail (HSR) with the Obama Administration’s proposed $53 billion rail proposal, much of which would go to HSR. While it will be difficult to pass this proposal in its entirety through Congress, I think it is a game changer nonetheless because it is really putting HSR front and center in the national dialogue. When CA4HSR formed in late 2005 in an effort to save the California project from being shut down, I could never have expected in six short years, HSR would be a national issue and being promoted as the centerpiece of the President of the United States’ efforts to revitalize America’s economy and its belief in itself. Thankfully, the doors were kept open on the California project with a shoestring budget. Imagine if the doors had not been kept open. The bond most likely would not have been put on the ballot by the State Legislature in 2008 and we would have no project today and none of the jobs that are coming with it. And without a large project in California, it is questionable if HSR would be such a large part of the national dialogue. After voters passed Prop 1A, it was a wake up call nationally that HSR is a viable concept in the United States. I firmly believe that without the California project, the $8 billion would not have materialized in the stimulus package as it did. There may have been some money for HSR studies and upgrades to various Amtrak lines. However, it was the visibility of the California project that has provided a shining example of citizen support for HSR that has enabled President Obama to take the plunge and fully commit to HSR. I feel proud that CA4HSR and other groups and project supporters were a part of the effort to save the California project at a time when it was endangered. It is rewarding to see how this project is not only progressing toward the beginning of construction, but how it is influencing the national dialogue and priorities in a huge way.

However, our work is not done. All this progress can slow to a crawl if we don’t stay vigilant. Florida Governor Rick Scott’s has now rejected $2.4 billion in HSR funds for his state twice, even after arrangements were made to relieve the State of all risk (though there is still a last ditch effort to revive the project for a second time).High-speed rail funds were also rejected by governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa All this indicates there is now a true ideological struggle emerging that has politicized HSR as an issue to be fought, whereas infrastructure has traditionally been a bi-partisan affair. This development is a threat to HSR nationally and HSR supporters will need to make their voices heard more than ever. The well-funded think tanks, such as the Reason Foundation, are having success in pushing their biased and unsubstantiated claims about HSR. In fact, Governor Scott was being advised by the Reason Foundation in the area of transportation policy. The California project is surely next on their list of targets. That said, there is still potential for bi-partisan support of HSR. John Mica, the new Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has indicated he is supportive of HSR, though he remains skeptical about the California project.

The ideological push to kill HSR nationally is reflected in the appropriations bill just passed by the House of Representatives, which eliminates all HSR funding in FY 2011 (it was $2.5 billion in FY 2010) and rescinds funds already awarded from the FY 2010 and unobligated funds from the Federal stimulus program. This reminds me of the situation we had here in California a few years back. To keep the momentum going, we must preserve funding already granted to California and other states from both the Stimulus and FY 2010 for HSR, as well as ensuring funding continues for HSR in FY 2011. There are indications that negotiations are currently underway and the Senate is looking to endorse many of the cuts contained in the House’s budget to avoid a government shutdown. I urge everyone to call Senators Feinstein and Boxer and President Obama and ask them to hold the line and not negotiate away HSR funding by demanding that HSR funding in the final FY 2011 appropriations bill be restored to at least 2010 levels, and that funds already granted to HSR projects are not rescinded.

 

If California is any guide, funding for public transportation projects and operations is likely to be sacrificed in favor of preserving other social programs.If funding is totally cut off for HSR (including the rescinded of funds already awarded), it will be much harder to include HSR in the six-year transportation bill currently being crafted and the annual appropriation bills. It is critical that Congress hold the line to preserve the presidential priority of HSR and not accept any final budget deal that destroys this priority.

Meanwhile, there are still many in the State Capitol who are overly critical of the HSR project while still not having provided the necessary funds for the Authority to hire enough people. Additionally, a plethora of HSR-related bills have been introduced for this legislative session which will require monitoring. There is much work to be done at both the State and Federal level.

In closing this message, I want to express that I am honored to become Executive Director of CA4HSR and I want to thank Brian Stanke for his leadership for the last year plus as Executive Director.

Daniel Krause

Executive Director, Californians For High Speed Rail

 

Federal/National Report

News and Analysis on HSR Developments in Washington D.C. and Beyond

It has been an extremely busy month for HSR in Washington D.C. and nationally. Therefore, in lieu of a feature article this month, more space is devoted to examining federal developments. Federal/national issues are currently the highest priority of advocacy in the next week or so. However, a focus back on state issues will be required after the budget negotiations in Washington are wrapped up.

 

President Obama $53 Billion Plan from Obama’s Budget

As previously discussed in the opening message, President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal includes $53 billion for HSR and rail that help lay the foundation for HSR over a six-year timeframe. The proposal calls for frontloading more money in 2012 to the tune of $8 billion, half of which would go to HSR and the other half to bring existing passenger rail infrastructure in good repair. With this package, the Administration appears to be committed to their current strategy of investing money in rail projects around the country and for a wide range of services. The proposal calls for three categories of rail improvements: 1) Core Express (125-250 mph or higher); 2) Regional (90-125 mph); and 3) Emerging (up to 90 mph).

The Administration’s proposal conflicts somewhat with Representative John Mica’s (FL) approach, which is to concentrate HSR investment exclusively on true HSR (150+ mph) while only funding a limited number of HSR projects (with a focus on converting the Northeast Corridor to true HSR). CA4HSR generally supports increasing support for all rail projects, as we see value in improving non-HSR rail corridors, as many of these will serve as feeder lines to HSR, and are important in their own right. However, we also see Mica’s point of view. If we are going to build HSR, there will need to be a heavy focus on just a few major projects, at least initially, until the funding picture for rail improves.  It will be interesting to see how these two competing agendas for HSR play out in the coming months.

House of Representatives Eliminates all HSR Funding in FY 2011 and Rescinds all Unobligated FY 2010 and Stimulus HSR Funds – Call Senators Feinstein (202-224-3841) and Boxer (202-224-3553), and President Obama (202-456-1111), and Urge them to Restore HSR Funding in FY 2011 Appropriations Bill!

The House of Representatives recently passed an appropriations bill for the remainder of FY 2011 that impacts HSR and other public transportation as follows:

  • Eliminates all funding for HSR in FY 2011.
  • Rescinds all unobligated HSR funds from FY 2010.
  • Rescinds all unobligated HSR funds from the Stimulus.
  • Cuts the popular New Starts program, which funds new mass transit projects.
  • Significantly cuts Amtrak’ s annual funding.

The House bill could severely impact the planned construction of HSR between Fresno and Bakersfield (due to begin in 2012) as it is possible that approximately $1 billion could be rescinded from the project, forcing the segment to be cut back significantly. CA4HSR is urging the Senate and President Obama to reject this radical bill, which reverses years of progress toward a cleaner and safer transportation future. Again, please don’t hesitate and call Senators Feinstein and Boxer, and President Obama, to tell them to reject any budget deal with the House that cuts HSR and other forms of public transportation.

 

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Holds Hearings in California and Around the Country

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committeeheld two hearings in California to solicit feedback from stakeholders about what they would like to see from the next six-year Federal transportation bill. The meetings were organized by the Chairman of the Committee, Representative John Mica (R-FL).

The first California hearing took place in Fresno on February 22, 2011 with Representative Jeff Denham (R-CA; Madera County area) serving as the local organizer. Prior to the hearing, a rally to support the HSR project was held. Though it was a very cold morning, dozens of project supporters cheered on the HSR project for the San Joaquin Valley. A few opponents showed up as well, and a lively dialogue ensued.  Unfortunately, inside the hearing, HSR was not the main topic, which seemed strange given the relevance of HSR to Fresno right now. Of the selected speakers, only Rod Diridon went into detail on the importance of HSR. Two opponents were asked to speak against HSR by Jeff Denham. Luckily, Susan Anderson, a Board of Supervisor for Fresno County spoke strongly in favor of the project from the audience. CA4HSR’s Daniel Krause attended both the rally and hearing and had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Mica afterwards. Mr. Mica expressed skepticism about the California’s project in terms of ridership. CA4HSR urges Mr. Mica to look at the incredible population growth in California and consider the fact that the HSR alignment follows the second busiest air corridor in the country (Bay Area to Los Angeles) and will serve two massive urban areas and a rapidly growing San Joaquin Valley.

The second California hearing took place in Los Angeles on February 23, 2011. Senator Barbara Boxer co-sponsored the event with Representative Mica. CA4HSR was allowed to submit written testimony ahead of the hearing. Furthermore, CA4HSR board member Ryan Stern attended the hearing. Unfortunately, as in Fresno, there was little discussion of HSR. However, there was a strong focus on public transportation issues. There was also discussion of the Railroad Improvement  Fund, which apparently contains $35 billion in unused funds. It is unclear whether such funds would be available for HSR.

Prior to the California hearings, several others took place, including one in New York City at Grand Central Station on January 27, 2011. At the hearing, Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell stated “The answer to the question that Chairman Mica posed of why starting in the Northeast, because we gotta make sure one of these – in California, in Florida, or in Northeast Corridor – one of these systems works, its viable, its sustainable, it makes money, people will ride it.” While this is encouraging in one respect, it is also of concern that the California project is viewed as an option when it is already underway and funded with over $9 billion in state bond money and almost another $4 billion in Federal grants. Representative Mica also emphasized his preference for focusing HSR investments in Northeast Corridor. CA4HSR, while supportive of HSR in the Northeast Corridor, and agree it is worthy of investment, is also concerned about the potential for reducing the priority of the California project in terms of commitment and funding. Furthermore, the California project is years ahead of the Northeast Corridor in planning. It would not even be practical to begin funding the Northeast Corridor at significant levels in the near-term until a full project concept is developed and planning proceeds to a level where construction can begin soon after.

Florida Governor Rick Scott Rejects $2.4 Billion in HSR Stimulus Funds – Last Ditch Effort to Save the Project

As it stands, Rick Scott has decided to reject $2.4 billion in Federal stimulus funds awarded to Florida, which would have covered 90% of the costs to build the planned Tampa Bay to Orlando HSR line. Most telling that this may have been ideologically driven, Gov. Scott did not even wait for the ridership studies he originally said he would base his decision on. Further, he did not even solicit proposals from the private companies that had already expressed great interest in providing the remaining 10% of funds need to build the project as well as to cover all the operating costs. An initial effort to revive the project was again rebuffed by Governor Scott. A second effort is currently underway to save the project as Rick Scott has just requested more information on the project. The saga continues.

As we have stated before, CA4HSR strongly support the Florida HSR project because we feel it is critical to get several HSR projects underway nationally to build support (even if we get less for our project in the short-term). CA4HSR issued a press release in which we urged Governor Scott to reconsider his decision, which will do great damage to Florida’s future and diminish support for HSR nationally. We were also encouraged to see Representative Mica urge the Governor to reconsider. Of course if he ultimately decides to stick with this fateful decision, we will be working hard to bring as much of the Florida money to the California project.

Iowa Rejects Federal HSR Money

It appears Iowa has also rejected their funds for HSR. It is unclear how this will affect the line that was planned between Chicago and Iowa City, given that Illinois is supportive of their HSR projects. Again, CA4HSR hopes to see this money redirected to the California project.

State Capitol Update

An Around-the-State Update on HSR Developments

The budget is currently dominating most of the activity in the State Capitol, as legislators try to come to an agreement shortly so as to allow Governor Brown’s tax package to be placed on the ballot for a special election on Tuesday. Given the forthcoming savage cuts in human and health services and other social programs as part of this year’s budget, HSR opponents continue to claim we can’t afford to spend money on HSR. CA4HSR continues to remind our leaders that this argument is just flat out wrong. If we were to suspend using voter-approved bond money, we would also have to forfeit Federal HSR money we have been promised, which now stands at approximately $3.5 billion (and possibly much more if California receives a portion Florida’s reject HSR funds). CA4HSR strongly believes that the overall economic benefit of creating huge number of jobs in the near-term related to construction of the first segment of the HSR project in the Central Valley will lead to an increase in revenues for California’s general fund in the long-term through economic recovery, thereby leading to more money for other public services. Nevertheless, many legislators are feeling the pressure and having a hard time justifying spending money on HSR.

We are urging supporters of the California HSR project to contact their state representatives in both the Assembly and State Senate and remind them that moving the HSR project forward will help our overall economy, and that we can’t afford NOT to move forward with the project.

Numerous bills related to HSR have been introduced as part of the 2011-12 California Legislative Session. These bills are described in our Legislative Matrix. CA4HSR is currently studying the legislation and will provide further analysis along with our position for each bill in the March editionof The High-Speed Rail Advocate.

California HSR Project Updates

An Around-the-State Update on HSR Developments

 

San Joaquin Valley Update

Conceptual Station Area Plans Released in Fresno

The City of Fresno recently released a document containing conceptual plans for the high-speed rail station area in downtown Fresno. Please stay tune for our analysis of this document in the March edition of The High-Speed Rail Advocate.

Draft EIR/EIS Still Not Released

CA4HSR is still anticipating the release of the Bakersfield to Fresno Draft EIR/EIS. We had originally thought the document would be released in February, but now it is unclear when it is due out. Given the Federal deadlines to complete the environmental work, we hope it is released soon. We also urge the Authority and the U.S. DOT to consider modifying these deadlines if necessary to ensure that planning is done in the most effective manner.

Bay Area Update

Phased Approach for the San Francisco-San Jose Section Being Pursued

In his CEO report at the February 3 Authority Board meeting, Roelof van Ark discussed the Authority’s new approach to the San Francisco to San Jose section. Rather than just studying the full build out for the section in the forthcoming EIR, the Authority will now include plans for a phased implementation of the full build out. Adding the consideration of phasing is one of the reasons the Draft EIR/EIS for the section is being delayed for release to the public until the end of 2011. CA4HSR is interested in learning more about what phasing will entail, and have begun a dialogue with Authority engineers to understand better this shift in strategy.

Los Angeles Area Update

Phased Approach for LA-Anaheim Section Being Pursued

As with the San Francisco to San Jose section, the Los Angeles to Anaheim section is also being planned for a phased implementation. The Draft EIR/EIS for this section will also be delayed until the end of 2011.

HSR Blurbs:

CAHSR Works with Several Coalitions to Promote HSR Funding

  • CA4HSR signed on to a letter with a large coalition of organizations urging both the House and the Senate to provide at least $3.5 billion in funding for FY 2011.
  • CA4HSR issues a press release with a coalition of organizations ahead of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in Fresno urging investment in transportation that will clean the air and created jobs in the next six-year transportation bill, including HSR.

 

Contributors to this E-Newsletter: Daniel Krause, Nick Cronenwett, and Ryan Stern.

 

 

About Californians For High Speed Rail

Californians For High Speed Rail (CA4HSR) is a grassroots, statewide coalition of HSR supporters advocating for the HSR project approved by California voters in November 2008. Founded in 2005, we exist to educate, inform, and organize Californians about ways they can help make high-speed rail a reality in the Golden State.

As a non-profit group united by our passion to bring high-speed rail to California, we rely on the help of like-minded volunteers to carry out our mission. We welcome article ideas, submissions and donations from our members and supporters. Contact Sharon Sim-Krause at sharon@ca4hsr.org or 415.658.5322 on ways you can make a difference.

Become a Member of CA4HSR today!

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About The High-Speed Rail Advocate

The High-Speed Rail Advocate is the official e-newsletter of Californians For High Speed Rail (CA4HSR).